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Album Review: Kill It Kid – You Owe Nothing

 
By on Monday, 17th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

If you’re a devotee of the harder end of the blues-rock spectrum, you owe it to yourself – contrary to the album’s title – to check out the new release from Bath rockers Kill It Kid. The defining feature of ‘You Owe Nothing’, in true Tap style, is the band’s willingness to turn everything up to 11. From the very first opening onslaught of ‘Black It Out’ – chopped-up guitars compete with an enormous fuzz bass to create a noise that could be the sound of two space robots hitting each other – the listener is left in no doubt that these guys mean to punch a hole in one’s eardrums… and have a party whilst doing it.

On ‘Sick Case of Loving You’, Kill It Kid reveal their party piece. Pianist Stephanie Ward steps forward to share lead vocal with Chris Turpin, and as their voices intertwine, one realises just how rare the female voice is in a rock context, and just how refreshing it is to hear it. In what can be an overly testosterone-soaked genre, Ward proves how capably a female voice can enhance the listening experience, both from an auditory and emotional perspective. She gets centre stage on ‘Blood Stop and Run’ and it’s a highlight of the whole album, in no small part due to her performance.

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After a three-track hard rock introduction, along comes the obligatory power-ballad in the shape of ‘Caroline’. Competent though it is, the band displaying quite spectacular commitment in wringing every ounce of emotive power from their performances, it’s perhaps where Kill It Kid admit they’re not afraid to be derivative when required. Gone is the interstellar guitar choppery, replaced by something that sounds like a Bon Jovi B-side. From 1992. And from that point on it’s difficult to escape the subtle but persistent whiff of cliché.

The second half of the album is comprised of mildly suspect romance-based double entendres seemingly inspired by Monty Python’s “Say No More” sketch. ‘I’ll Be the First’, ‘Don’t It Feel Good’, ‘Tried Used Loved Abused’ – they’re all laden with sexual overtones, with Stephanie Ward even making some bedroom-style noises at times. No complaints, and given the gender balance it can’t truly be called ‘cock rock’, but the overtones are certainly there – this is a record with sex on its mind.

Despite occupying the same genre segment, it’s a tall order to meet the standards of hard rock that were set in the ’80s and ’90s by legendary bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses, and despite a strong effort, Kill It Kid can’t quite reach those heights. Bath simply can’t provide the depth of sleaze as L.A., and that shows in the songwriting. What we’ve got here is a tamer, if perhaps more refined, sound. Still, it’s the first thing in years that gets close, and for that they deserve kudos – and a round of Jack.

7/10

Kill It Kid’s new album ‘You Owe Nothing’ is out today on Sire / Warner Brothers Records.

 

Album Review: Wolf Gang – Alveron

 
By on Monday, 10th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

If the story of London band Wolf Gang was ever made into a film, it would be one that came out at Christmastime for the whole family. Because as the group stands now, it is a family. And the family that plays together stays together, am I right?

We first wrote about Wolf Gang on TGTF 5 years ago when it was solely a project of Max McElligott, a former student at the London School of Economics who dropped out to do music instead of bean counting. And music he did, did well, and of a stunning, orchestral variety. It took some time for McElligott to find the right members for his live band but as fate would have it, he found the perfect brothers to continue his musical journey with: Gavin Slater on guitar, James Wood on bass and Lasse Petersen on drums, as well as more recent addition Beau Holland to assist on keyboards and guitar on the road. When it came time to record a follow-up to his 2011 debut solo album, McElligott says, “we immediately had this chemistry, so it was a really easy decision to move on from ‘Suego Faults’ to recording this next album together with the four of us, so as a result it sounds really different because of it”.

What was most unexpected about ‘Suego Faults’ was its maturity despite McElligott being in his early 20s. ‘Alveron’, then, can be described as a great next step evolutionarily for the band, showing further maturity, as well as an understanding of how the industry is evolving as well. The evidence begins from the first notes of opening ‘Now I Can Feel It’, whose bluesy, r&b vibe shows an appreciation of what’s popular in America today. Make no mistake though: it’s still clearly Wolf Gang, with a classic pop sensibility that McElligott does so well, but with an edge.

You can feel this edge through most of this album, so much as you’re spinning this record, it feels like you’re Meg Ryan on her bicycle at the end of City of Angels. There is a bit of danger in it all, you accept this, but oh man, you close your eyes and it feels good, you’re loving life. This is the curious juxtaposition of McElligott’s powerful, dramatic lyrics with the uplifting instrumentation of Wolf Gang, now working together as a four-piece full band. The band consciously recorded this album to capture as much of the energy from their live shows as possible, and you can hear this vitality throughout the album.

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Previous releases ‘Black River’, ‘Lay Your Love Down’ and ‘Back to Life’ are love songs but not in the traditional sense, and the band should be commended for not falling into the trap of going for the obvious. The message of ‘Back to Life’ in particular is noteworthy: you may have lost all hope from a previous heartbreak, but you will survive from it stronger. You will soon realise that person no longer in your life gave you some keys to life so you can love better the next time, and McElligott’s voice soars to reflect the positivity of the piece.

Numbers ‘Into the Fire’ and ‘Underneath the Night’ are both upbeat in tempo and the lyrics run appropriately buoyant, the former insisting, “your life is what you make it, with reasons to believe”. ‘Last Bayou’ also falls into a similar mould; the song appeared as a standout on the ‘Black River’ EP released in April, with its melodic guitar line and the youthful declaration “these young dreams are all we breathe”. The LP closes out with title track ‘Alveron’, another inspiring tune for you to wave those legendary flags at Glasto to. Oh wait, we’re in winter now, aren’t we…keep forgetting that.

The slower songs on the album feel like when you throw water onto a campfire: you can still see the glowing embers, but the vitality is lacking. Like the disappointment felt seeing a film after reading the book it was based on, the album version of ‘Ghost in My Life’ fails to deliver on record in light of me having the benefit of seeing it performed live with nothing but acoustic guitar accompanying McElligott’s voice, which was absolutely beautiful. The ghostly feeling of the instrumentation is possibly done too well, with the strings disorientating and the trumpet just a tad too loud and gay with McElligott’s otherwise desperate words, “and I want you to know, that I need you to stay / would you try to let go, if I stood in the way? / and I need you to see now, there’s nowhere to hide / if tonight you should leave as the ghost in my life”. A less is more approach probably would have served the otherwise poignant song better. ‘Frozen Lands’ attempts for orchestral epicness, but its breathy echoing dampens the effect they were trying to achieve.

Still, if the band was shooting to make an album with an overall mood of optimism, I’d say they’ve hit the nail on the head with ‘Alveron’. Smart songwriting, catchy and tight instrumentation and wow, a positive message! What more could you ask for?

8/10

‘Alveron’, the second album from London indie pop band Wolf Gang, is out now on Cherrytree / Interscope Records. Watch a behind the scenes making of the album video below, narrated by the band, below.

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Album Review: Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

 
By on Thursday, 6th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Damien Rice My Favourite Faded Fantasy CoverWhen I’ve listened to Damien Rice‘s music in the past, I’ve always found it to be brutal, hard on both the heart and the hearing. His debut album ‘O’ was lyrically edgy, with songs like ‘Volcano’ and ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, and second album ‘9’ was full of angst and frustration, as evidenced by the pugilistic refrain of ‘Rootless Tree’. So when Rice announced after an 8-year hiatus that he would be releasing a new album, I winced internally at the prospect. Surprisingly though, Rice’s latest effort, titled ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, is more subtle and introspective than his earlier work, and it displays a greater degree of musical elegance.

Opening with eponymous track ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, the album immediately displays a bit of a theatrical flair. Starting off as a desperate torch song, it calls to mind the main character in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. The music is a metaphorical mix of poignant melody and ever-so-slightly discordant harmony that eventually succumbs to an almost frenetic sadness. The instrumental arrangement of ‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ is similarly beguiling, featuring an unusually complex counterpoint woven among the vocal line, the contemplative piano riff and the soaring string melody.

Rice employs an impressive level of vocal sensitivity in ‘The Greatest Bastard’, where he approaches the melodicism of bel canto style while still maintaining his typically rough, emotionally-charged vocal timbre. He makes effective use of his falsetto throughout the album, but in the full voice moments in the chorus of this track, he squarely hits the intersection between beautiful singing and potent expression.

Lyrically, Rice is somewhat more restrained on this album than I might have expected, though he hasn’t lost his sense of viscerally evocative poetry, such as the “dogless bone” simile of ‘Colour Me In’. Recent single ‘I Don’t Want to Change You’ is probably the most predictable track on the album, though its repetitive chorus doesn’t necessarily hinder the song’s beauty or its effectiveness. Placed in the middle of the track sequence, it provides a nice mental respite from intensity of the first three songs, and without breaking the general mood of the record.

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Where ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ opens its namesake album with a hazy trip down memory lane, final tracks ‘Trusty and True’ and ‘Long Long Way’ close the album with a feeling of looking ahead to the future. The symmetry is appealing, but despite the length and expansiveness of the individual tracks (‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ comes close to 10 minutes all on its own), the end of the album feels a bit abrupt, like a film screen gone black before the ending is assured. I’m of two minds on the issue of the overall tracklisting: on one hand, the concise length conveys what Rice wants to say without extra fluff or froth; on the other, the lack of denouement and resolution in the last two tracks left me wishing for something more.

Performed without the softening effect of Rice’s former partner Lisa Hannigan, the songs on this album depend on the strength of his own singing and the endurance of his love for the act of songwriting. Rice himself describes the new album as being “sung straight into the metaphorical mirror”, which may account for his somewhat gentler approach. Known for being a perfectionist and temperamental, Rice has apparently calmed those self-critical tendencies with the assistance of producer Rick Rubin (Angus and Julia Stone, Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran), who convinced Rice to “open up and have faith in the songs”. These are certainly songs worth believing in, and the album is well worth the lengthy wait.

8.5/10

Damien Rice’s third studio album ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is available now on Atlantic Records. He will play a sold out show at the London Palladium this Friday, the 7th of November. Previous TGTF coverage of Damien Rice can be found here.

 

Album Review: High Hazels – High Hazels

 
By on Tuesday, 4th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The Sheffield connection is difficult to ignore when it comes down to High Hazels; it’s pertinent to recognise when a city has had a fundamental influence in sculpting the sound of a band. From the first listen, an obvious influence on the four-piece is Alex Turner’s motley band of international superstars, Arctic Monkeys. They’re another group who’ve started with a sure-fire underground fan base in the city and has moved out to bring the kind of Midlands but wannabe Northerner vibe to the rest of the UK.

One thing is for sure when listening to ‘High Hazels’: they pull off the everyman sound that has made Arctic Monkeys so accessible far better than Jake Bugg. It sounds genuine and unforced throughout from the opening strums of ‘Valencia’, to strolling along ‘The Promenade’ (a TGTF MP3 of the Day last week) at the album’s crescendo. High Hazels have missed a trick releasing this album at the end of October though. It’s screaming out to be enjoyed in the parks and beaches of Brighton or London: it’s got a distinctly summery feeling and listening to it as the back-end of a hurricane sweeps in alongside torrents of rain doesn’t whet my appetite as much as it could have in the beautiful Indian summer we’ve just enjoyed. Yes, the record does feel slightly dreamy and surf poppy, but that’s by the by.

‘How Long’s It Gonna Be’ is a tribute to some of the fantastic songwriting on the band’s debut effort, while ‘Hanging Moon’ is a slow-burning bastion of the toe-tapping goodness this album encapsulates throughout. The album finishes with ‘The Promenade’, where frontman James Leesley sings of how “we fell into a very bad dream”, possibly induced by the terrific dream pop stylings on lead single ‘Misbehave’ earlier in the album.

One slight criticism of ‘Misbehave’, is how much it reminds me of the advert for Mattesons Fridge Raiders where everyone in the world turns into the Shadows’ Hank Marvin. I mean, come on! That riff is so Hank Marvin. Barring that, it’s a complete pop banger that should be getting some primetime air on Radio 1, but is instead probably relegated to the B-list behind that buffoon Jason Derulo.

Indisputably, the band has its lyrical high point on ‘Shy Tide’, as Leesley laments, “don’t you dare tell me that I owe you everything”. It probably shows the band at their most emotional nand tormented, which probably isn’t too bad seeing as the album makes me feel as sunny as a summer holiday in Greece lounging by the pool in some discount speedos. That dark, disturbing image aside, the debut effort by this next band of Sheffielders to take their whack at the big time is a formidable effort, chocked to the brimful of bouncy choruses and toe-tappingly splendid riffs.

8/10

The self-titled debut album from High Hazels is out now on Heist or Hit Records. The quartet have just begun a UK tour this week.

 

Album Review: To Kill a King – Exit, Pursued by a Bear EP

 
By on Monday, 3rd November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

To Kill A King Exit EP coverLondon-via-Leeds quintet To Kill a King are hard at work on their second studio LP and making preparations for their recently announced March 2015 UK tour, but to keep our appetites whetted, they have in the interim released a new EP titled ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’. Comprising 5 tracks, ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ is more of a mini-album than an EP, though I suppose that distinction is rather overly specific. The tracklisting seems to be carefully thought out, more like a full album than the pastiche quality of many EPs, beginning with the striking single ‘Oh My Love’, and alternating between extremes of style and tempo before ending on the subtle sentimentality of ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’.

Lead singer Ralph Pelleymounter’s singing voice is a mesmerising combination of Michael Hutchence and Matt Berninger, capturing both the sultry sensuality of the former and the brooding introspection of the latter. Guitarist Grant McNeil and keyboardist/producer Ben Jackson provide an almost orchestral sense of sonic drama behind the vocals, while rhythm section members Josh Platman (bass) and Josh Taffel (drums) maintain a propulsive forward motion throughout the EP.

‘Oh My Love’ finds Pelleymounter’s dramatic lyrics and hypnotic vocal timbre struggling through the insistent wail of the backing voices. His opening line is an instant hook, “penny for your thoughts, I’m saving up to buy them all”, and its metaphor continues into the second verse, “line them up and let them loose, incarcerated red balloons”. Pounding drums and synthesised brass allow the chorus to soar above the rest of the song despite its heavy lyric, “oh my love, we’re destined to demise”.

After a brief respite in the form of a lilting and uplifting guitar ballad called ‘Breathe’, the tempo picks up again in the percussive, piano-driven track ‘The Constant Changing State of Us (Gold)’. Oddly distorted vocals at the beginning of the song build into the anthemic repeated chorus, “if you hold on too tight, then you will lose sight” before Pelleymounter intones the final line, “you know what I mean when I say love will change”.

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‘Love is Coal’ gradually evolves from a declamatory, almost spoken, vocal line backed by a solo electric guitar into a dynamic arrangement of racing percussion and vibrant backing vocals. Pelleymounter’s first delivery of the chorus “love is not like diamonds, love is coal to keep you warm” is stark and hypnotic, followed by the introduction of a slow, visceral heartbeat in the rhythm section, which grows more insistent until after the second chorus, when it shifts into high gear and drives the song to a close.

Final track ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ is a jazzy piano ballad that reminded me, surprisingly, of John Hiatt’s ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’. The sudden change of tone and flavor is slightly startling, but Pelleymounter’s vocals here are as convincingly soulful as at any point on the EP, especially in the heartfelt lyric “I hope you find some peace, whatever the hell that means”.

If ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ were a full-length vinyl LP, the faint curiosity roused by ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ would mark the perfect place to flip the record over and see what the other side might hold. The EP feels very strongly like the beginning of an album proper, both in its sense of sonic continuity and its thematic variety. If To Kill a King continue writing and recording in this vein, their second album will surely shape up to be a fine listen.

8/10

‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’, the latest release from London’s To Kill a King is available now, both digitally and on 10” vinyl, via Xtra Mile Recordings (buy it here).

 

Album Review: Little Comets – The Sanguine EP

 
By on Friday, 31st October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Arguably, the most famous thing that late Factory Records boss and journalist Tony Wilson ever said was, “but this is Manchester. We do things differently here”. The same can be said for bands in the North: far away from the reach, influence and trappings of London, the majority of them choose not to leave their home for the big smoke, instead making their name under their own terms, many thriving thanks to old-fashioned determination and incredibly hard graft.

Little Comets are one of the bright stars from Newcastle, though the brothers Coles and their growing families now call the Midlands (Birmingham to be more exact) home. The trio – singer/guitarist Rob Coles, his brother Mickey on guitar and Matt Hall on bass, supplemented by live drummer David “Greenie” Green – decided earlier this year to go it alone and leave Dirty Hit Records to strike out on their own The Smallest Label for all future releases. One of their great ongoing marketing plans in 2014 has been to release a series of EPs in lieu of a full album. (This will come later, in February 2015, when ‘Hope is a State of Mind’ will be released.) Monday sees the release of the third and final EP in the trilogy, ‘The Sanguine EP’, which follows ‘The Gentle EP’ (starring the brilliant ‘Little Italy’) released in February and ‘Salt’ in June. As seen with those previous records, Rob Coles’ lyrical content continues to be weighty and reflective, while the music is intelligent.

The foot-stompingly good ‘Ex-Cathedra’ begins this EP. As described by Coles himself on this entry on the band’s blog, the title comes from a Latin phrase “from the seat” that is used to describe the infallibility of the Pope’s thoughts and decisions. But ultimately, Coles wrote the lyrics to it in remembrance of his son William’s birth: the word ‘sanguine’ (frankly not used enough these days) that appears in the EP title also makes an appearance here as a sign of optimism, and the words “never let the winsome die” further this upbeat feeling.

The moniker of ‘Creeping Up Appearances’ is no doubt a pun on the BBC’s farcical tv series starring Patricia Routledge, but in some ways it’s a perfectly appropriate title if you consider Hyacinth Bucket’s primary goal throughout the series: to keep up her and her husband Richard’s appearance, things are business as usual as she continues her reign of snobbery while totally unaware of how she really appears to be to other people. While the guitars are suitably jaunty for Little Comets’ fare, the actual topic Coles is talking about is how the status quo is being maintained in Parliament while no-one is being held accountable. The overall instrumentation is restrained, allowing for the Comets’ trademark harmonies to shine bright.

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With cheerful guitar noodle-y bits that sound like country western crossed with Jimmy Page’s parts in ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, ‘Cover Your Rain’ (shown acoustically live above) is the most instrumentally interesting track of the EP. Though the two songs sound different and have entirely different purposes, I can’t explain why this song reminds me of ‘A Little Opus’, the title track of their second studio album ‘Life is Elsewhere and it’s really bothering me. Maybe it’s time for me to sit down for another chat with the lads and pick their brains again to get to the bottom of this irksome feeling in my psyche.

And while I had their attention, I’d also thank them for ‘The Assisted’. It is in stark contrast with the rest of the EP, as it is presented as simply as humanly possible, with just Rob Coles’ voice and him playing piano. He’s explained it’s about assisted suicide and not wanting to live any longer with a terminal illness. As you can probably imagine, this is quite loaded subject matter; in the wrong hands and without true consideration of the gravity of such a situation, a song like this could easily come across completely insincere and out of touch, the song equivalent of the most terrible of train wrecks.

Instead, Coles has written a truly beautiful, moving piece, showing an astonishing gentleness and cognisance of a difficult decision, and a final one at that. It’s a real tearjerker. For those of us who have had to contemplate for ourselves or for others such a fate, it’s not something that can or should be taken lightly. Even if the song doesn’t resonate with you personally, you can use it as one of many examples of the Little Comets back catalogue of their great artistry. If you haven’t figured this out already while following their story, Little Comets are a band who aren’t afraid to defy convention, to touch hot button topics like this and deal with them head on, and we should thank our lucky stars every day for this.

8.5/10

‘The Sanguine EP’ will be released on Monday, the 3rd of November, on the band’s own The Smallest Label. Their third album ‘Hope is a State of Mind’ can now be pre-ordered on their PledgeMusic Web site, along with the opportunity to purchase a whole series of unique and limited edition items. The album will be released on the 16th of February 2015. You can stream EP track ‘The Assisted’ below.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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